Posts Tagged ‘Kim Jong Un’

US needs better China strategy in real-life Game Of Thrones

February 19, 2018

By James Stavridis

In HBO’s Game Of Thrones, the most impressive single force on a very complex battlefield is the trio of dragons mastered by Queen Daenerys Targaryen. As she says: “We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground!”

The symbol of China, of course, is the dragon. The US, whose symbol is the eagle, will need to learn to fly in uneasy company of the dragon in the decades ahead.

These metaphors can fly independently, but they are going to have to deconflict the airspace.

Let’s begin with a hopeful disclaimer: I do not believe we are headed towards a war with China. Our interests are far more likely to converge than to diverge overall, and our economies are deeply intertwined.

Yet the competition, assuming we can avoid outright conflict, will be fierce. A recent cover of The Economist talked about Chinese “sharp power”, meaning the combination of traditional “soft power” (hospitals, medical diplomacy, humanitarian operations) with more coercive tools (trade, economic domination, cyber piracy).

The United States needs a strategy to deal with a China that is increasingly comfortable engaging aggressively in the world. A good primer on this is Graham Allison’s recent book, Destined For War: Can America And China Escape Thucydides Trap?”

Professor Allison of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government tells the story of China’s truly meteoric rise over the past three decades, and makes the point that while we are playing checkers, the Chinese are not simply playing chess – they are playing a different game altogether: Go.


It is a complex, multi-move, long-dwell game of strategy. While the US crafts a strategy for the next decade or so (see the Donald Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy), China is planning the 200-year future. It is playing a long, long game.

An F-18 Hornet fighter jet set for take-off from the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during a routine deployment in the South China Sea this month. The writer believes that while the US still has an overall military advantage over Chi

So what should the US do? Where are there zones of cooperation, and where must it confront? Is there a sensible strategy the US can pursue to ensure it is not incinerated in the dragon’s fire?

The strategy needs to leave behind the mode of “China versus the US” and into a truly integrated Asian coalition. We must not appear to encircle, contain, or intimidate China; we must avoid creating a stark choice between Washington and Beijing for our partners in the region. Rather, we want to build stronger coordinated approaches with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other allies, friends and partners.

Let’s start with confrontation. At the top of the tactical watch list is the controversial set of Chinese claims over the South China Sea.

A body of water roughly the size of the Gulf of Mexico, it has billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas under its normally placid waves. Acquisition of this rich trove of hydrocarbons would complete China’s strategic suite of cards in the 21st century.

The US rightfully opposes such an appropriation, and will continue to fly planes overhead and drive ships through what Beijing insists are its “territorial seas”. Similarly, both sides are in conflict in another dimension of time and space altogether: the cyberworld.

The Chinese habit of stealing intellectual property and pressuring US companies in the cybersphere is accelerating, despite assurances from President Xi Jinping to former president Barack Obama and President Trump that he would rein in Chinese activities.

Finally, the US will continue to fight with China over what constitutes “free and fair trade”, and find ways to bring its trade deficit more into balance. There will be confrontation and hard negotiations (and hopefully not a full-blown trade war) ahead.

Here’s the good news: We do have a set of shared interests, starting with perhaps the most important one, Mr Kim Jong Un. China wants to continue to see a divided Korean peninsula (fearing the creation of a powerful juggernaut in the form of a unified, Western-aligned democracy post-Kim). Beijing also wants to avoid a full-blown refugee crisis on the border. There is room to work together in crafting a compromise to solve the potentially catastrophic possibility of a war between the US and North Korea.

The two nations can also work together on a wide range of global problems from climate change (the Trump administration is even talking about re-entering the Paris Agreement) to peacekeeping (perhaps on the turbulent Horn of Africa, where China is building a military base and has real interests).

China and the US could conduct medical diplomacy together (both nations operate hospital ships) and humanitarian operations in Africa and Latin America. There is the possibility of working together to reduce tensions in South Asia, where the US is still at war in Afghanistan and China holds great influence over Pakistan.

None of these will be easy, but all are at least possible. The goal then is to craft a sensible strategic approach that confronts China where the US must, but cooperates where it can.

It should be developed together by the departments of Defence, State, Treasury and Homeland Security (for the cyberpiece), and led by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. The working group should take input from outside experts and strategists including Prof Allison; former ambassador to China and retired Navy four-star admiral Joe Prueher; current head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris (nominated to be the next US ambassador to Australia); and Dr Henry Kissinger.

It should feature six key elements:

• Use true long-term thinking. Like China, the US must stop thinking year-to-year or even over the current decade – where do we see the US-China relationship in a century? Two centuries? We are a Pacific nation, but sensible accommodations that can be made that reflect the power and reach of China. We need to think about long-term strategies and the resources necessary to execute them.

•Conduct international coalition-building. The strategy needs to leave behind the mode of “China versus the US” and into a truly integrated Asian coalition. We must not appear to encircle, contain, or intimidate China; we must avoid creating a stark choice between Washington and Beijing for our partners in the region. Rather, we want to build stronger coordinated approaches with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other allies, friends and partners. Above all, we must work with India, the other emerging superpower of the 21st century and a fellow democracy.

•Retain a value-based approach. We must not surrender the importance of democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, gender equality, racial equality and other human rights. The US executes these values imperfectly, but they are the right ones and must be part of our strategic approach. Sometimes we think of this as a “war of ideas”, but that is not quite right. We are in a marketplace of ideas, and must compete with the alternate vision for structuring a society offered by China.

•Enhance our geo-economic posture. As the US becomes an energy superpower, revitalises its infrastructure (both physical and cyber), improves its global balance of trade, renegotiates important trade agreements, and uses Bretton Woods institutions – World Bank, International Monetary Fund – aggressively, it will have a more robust set of economic tools. Washington should use them with confidence in dealing with China, starting with returning to the idea of a multi-state Pacific trade agreement (a follow-on to the torpedoed Trans-Pacific Partnership) about which even Mr Trump has mused. Energising the private sector by defending its interests in China and US markets can provide leverage.

•Integrate the interagency. Today, various parts of the government are not well-coordinated in terms of an approach to China. The Defence Department is pursuing an aggressive strategy that names China (correctly) as a potentially dangerous peer-competitor; the State Department has a much softer approach. Treasury is hard-edged on currency manipulation, but the Department of Homeland Security is not aggressive enough in working on cyber defences. The US does not have a two-speed approach – it is more like a 10-speed bicycle

• Maintain a qualitative military edge. While the US still enjoys an overall military advantage over China, the margin is shrinking. It will require smart investments – especially in cyber, unmanned vehicles, advanced maritime platforms and fifth-generation fighters – to ensure it can succeed if forced into combat. Above all, it needs to move from a reactive China “policy” to a real strategy that connects ends, ways and means.

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America could easily take a page from Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese strategist, who was known for his sophisticated blend of hard and soft power to win complex battles. Yet even he ultimately said: “In death ground, fight.”

We are not yet on a death ground with China, but we will need a new approach to ensure we don’t stumble onto one.


•The writer is a retired US Navy admiral, former military commander of Nato, and dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2018, with the headline ‘US needs better China strategy in real-life Game Of Thrones’.

‘Too early’ for inter-Korean summit, Moon says, urging talks between Washington and Pyongyang

February 18, 2018

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while watching a performance by North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra in Seoul on Feb. 11. | REUTERS


 FEB 17, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said that he hopes his efforts to engage rival North Korea at the Olympics will also lead to better ties between the Pyongyang and its other major rival, Washington, as well as help set up talks on ridding the North of its nuclear bombs.

But Moon wouldn’t answer a question Saturday about what needs to happen before he’ll take North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un up on his invitation for a summit. He earlier said “let’s not get too far ahead” on a summit, according to his office.

Moon has yet to accept the North Korean offer, which was delivered Feb. 10 by Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong. He’s only said that the Koreas should “create an environment” for talks.

There’s a reason for his caution: the United States.

Moon likely wants his talks with the North to be accompanied with warming ties between Pyongyang and Washington so there’s less chance of aliening the South’s most crucial ally, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter an attack by the North.

Some conservatives worry that North Korea’s friendly overtures to Seoul are meant to push Washington farther away from its southern rival. This, the North may hope, will ruin U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure,” which is focused on slapping more isolating sanctions on the most sanctioned country on Earth.

“We are hoping that the ongoing talks between the South and North will lead to talks between the United States and North Korea and eventually to (North Korean) denuclearization dialogue,” Moon told reporters at the Olympics media center in Pyeongchang.

Moon said Saturday that a women’s hockey team of both North and South Koreans, a squad of North Korean cheerleaders (229 of them, all women) and an opening ceremony that saw both Koreas march together under a flag that showed a single Korea have moved Koreans and people around the world.

He also noted that “a consensus is starting to build that there’s also a need for talks between the United States and North Korea.”

On Saturday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono acknowledged the need for contact with North Korea, but denied that now is the time for dialogue.

“Having contact is important in that it delivers a message that (North Korea) can take a seat at the table for dialogue by abandoning its nuclear and missile development programs,” Kono told reporters, referring to the possibility that the United States may hold preparatory talks with the North before fully entering into a dialogue.

But he also said, “Japan is sharing the view with the United States and South Korea that we would gain nothing if we have dialogue (with North Korea) now,” underscoring the need for maintaining pressure on Pyongyang to compel it to give up its ambitions.

On Friday, Kono delivered a speech at the Munich Security Conference, warning against falling for North Korea’s charm offensive amid a conciliatory mood on the Korean Peninsula as a result of the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Games.

But before any talks can begin, there remain large obstacles to overcome.

The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency issued a dispatch Saturday chronicling a commentary that called Vice President Mike Pence “a common object of hatred” during his visit to South Korea for the Olympics’ opening ceremony.

It cited in particular what it called Pence’s attempts to avoid interacting with the North Korean delegation led by Kim Yo Jong.

“His behavior reminded one of a criminal wishing to sink through the floor,” KCNA said. “Pence, a backseat driver, had to go back to his den after exposing himself to public disgrace.”

While the language was pointed, KCNA often deploys such vivid descriptions when it criticizes adversaries in English-language dispatches intended for attention outside North Korea.

Despite Moon’s optimistic comments Saturday, there is deep skepticism about whether the good feelings on the Korean Peninsula will last.

Because of the Olympics, the United States and South Korea postponed March war games that the allies stage annually, but those exercises will probably resume. Pyongyang reacts with extreme hostility to the drills, which it claims are preparations for invasion.

The U.S. stance could be seen during the opening ceremonies, when North and South Korean athletes marched into the Olympic stadium under a “unification” flag. Moon and Kim Jong Un’s sister rose, but Pence stayed in his seat.

South Korea’s Moon says ‘too early’ for Pyongyang summit

February 17, 2018


© YONHAP/AFP/File | President Moon Jae-in (R) met Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong in the South but says it is too early for a summit
PYEONGCHANG (SOUTH KOREA) (AFP) –  South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Saturday said it was too early to think about a summit with North Korea despite the Olympic-driven rapprochement with its nuclear-armed neighbour.Moon last week received an invitation from the North’s leader Kim Jong Un for a summit in Pyongyang. The invitation was extended by his younger sister Kim Yo Jong, who visited as part of a high-level delegation to attend the Winter Games in the South.

“There are high hopes for a North-South summit but I think it is a bit rushed,” Moon told reporters in Pyeongchang during a visit to the main press centre.

“We have a Korean saying (on acting prematurely), which is ‘looking for hot water beside the well’,” he added.

The North is subject to multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and conducted dozens of weapons test last year.

But the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have seen Moon and Kim’s younger sister cheering a unified Korean women’s ice hockey team, enjoying a concert and dining together.

However Moon said the so-called “Peace Olympics” have highlighted the need for engagement between Washington and Pyongyang.

“The general consensus on the need for dialogue between the US and North Korea is gradually increasing,” he said.

“We are waiting for the current inter-Korean talks to lead to dialogue between the US and North Korea, and to denuclearisation.”

Washington insists that Pyongyang must take concrete steps towards denuclearisation before any talks can begin, while Moon has long argued for closer involvement to bring it to the negotiating table.

S. Korea to pay $2.6 million for North’s Olympic presence

February 14, 2018


© AFP | The South will pay for the North’s Olympics cheerleaders, a taekwondo demonstration team and art performers, while the bill for athletes will be paid by the IOC
SEOUL (AFP) – Seoul on Wednesday approved a $2.6 million budget to cover expenses for North Koreans visiting for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, officials said, after the North’s leader praised the South’s hospitality.The 2.86 billion won will cover transport, hotel, food and other cost for 229 cheerleaders, a taekwondo demonstration team, and around 140 art performers, the Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The bill for 22 North Korean athletes attending the Games will be paid separately by the International Olympic Committee, officials said.

Seoul has been careful to try to ensure that the North Koreans’ visit does not lead to a breach of the many different sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, and the money is expected to be paid directly to service providers, rather than Northern officials.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who chairs the ministry’s South and North Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council that provided the funds, said the North’s presence in Pyeongchang was generating “key momentum for improving inter-Korean relations and securing peace on the Korean peninsula”.

He acknowledged concerns over the nuclear-armed North’s participation in the South’s Games.

“We are keeping well in mind IOC regulations, international norms and sanctions against the North,” Cho added, according to Yonhap news agency.

US Vice President Mike Pence warned last week he would not allow “North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has praised the welcome the South gave the North’s high-level delegation last week, which included his sister Kim Yo Jong.

Yo Jong delivered Kim’s invitation for the South’s President Moon Jae-in to come to a summit in Pyongyang.

Moon did not immediately accept, saying the “right conditions” were needed.

Kim Yo Jong’s Shattered Olympic Dream

February 13, 2018

The sister of North Korea’s dictator was a media sensation—but a diplomatic failure.


By Walter Russell Mead
The Wall Street Journal

Feb. 12, 2018 6:41 p.m. ET

The toughest event at this year’s Winter Olympics has turned out to be the diplomatic lunge. Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s ruthless dictator, emerged as the early favorite, dazzling her hosts and earning points for inviting South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. The media went into full fanboy mode, giving Ms. Kim the best publicity since Vogue magazine gushed in 2011 that Bashar al-Assad’s wife was “the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies . . . a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind.”

In contrast, a dour Mike Pence not only avoided Ms. Kim during Friday’s opening ceremonies but did not stand when the “united” Korean athletic team was introduced, which angered some South Koreans. The Trump administration has assiduously worked to isolate North Korea; is Ms. Kim’s charm offensive now driving a wedge between the U.S. and the South?

The answer, at least for now, turns out to be no. In the past, South Korean presidents who jumped at North Korean offers of talks and exchanges ended up suffering political consequences when Pyongyang failed to follow up with real concessions. Moon Jae-in was too smart and too cautious to take the bait. Rather than accepting the invitation to Pyongyang, he urged the Kim regime to talk directly with the U.S.

By the time the buzzer sounded, it was Mr. Moon who had won the diplomatic gold medal, while Ms. Kim went home empty-handed. Mr. Moon got a political boost from Ms. Kim’s visit and the appearance of a thaw between the Koreas, but he avoided the backlash from appearing naive or overeager. He also reminded the Americans that South Korea cannot be taken for granted; without Seoul’s support, the Trump administration’s North Korea policy is unsustainable.

That matters, since North Korea has become the centerpiece of President Trump’s emerging foreign policy. By assembling the most severe and comprehensive sanctions ever levied against the reclusive state, while threatening military action, the U.S. hopes to force North Korea to the nuclear bargaining table.

This has been Mr. Trump’s most effective diplomatic and political effort to date. The administration has moved B-1 bombers and F-35 fighters to the Korean Peninsula during annual military exercises. It has reached out diplomatically to countries ranging from China to Indonesia. It has coordinated speeches by officials at the Pentagon, State Department and White House to keep the government on message.

This is the sort of orchestration that the Trump administration, and the president in particular, is supposed to be too undisciplined to carry out. The relative success of the North Korea process suggests that Mr. Trump and his staff may be more capable than critics expected in operating the complex machinery of American power.

Even so, it is far from clear that any sanctions, however draconian, can force the North Korean regime to give up the nuclear weapons that represent not just the Kim dynasty’s greatest achievement but the key to its long-term survival. Widespread famine in the 1990s killed up to three million people, out of a total population of 23 million. Yet that neither loosened the regime’s grip on power nor persuaded it to change course. A government that is willing to watch its people die en masse from starvation is an unpromising target for economic pressure.

Yet the military option is hardly appetizing. Past presidents rejected the idea of war against a nonnuclear North Korea; attacking now that it has dozens of nuclear weapons is even less attractive. In the event of war, North Korea could devastate Seoul or Tokyo. China could intervene, widening the conflict. The risks are extraordinary and to some degree incalculable. If South Korea believed that the U.S. was poised to launch a war, President Moon might move quickly to try to keep his country out of it. From Seoul’s point of view, its alliance with the U.S. is intended to prevent a war with Pyongyang, not to provoke one.

All this is to say that the effort to denuclearize North Korea is an uphill climb. That does not mean the effort is futile or should not be made. Sometimes diplomacy is about taking a series of small steps without having the summit in view. As you trek patiently upward, new paths appear—and new choices have to be made.

An important aspect of this kind of slow diplomatic slog is the need to keep America’s alliances united. The Winter Olympics kerfuffle should remind the White House that maintaining coordinated policies with Mr. Moon will be vital in the months and years to come. Kim Yo Jong and her big brother will be watching.

Why the Center-Left Became Immoderate — Democracy dies when one side loses respect for electoral outcomes

February 13, 2018

In polarized times, those without a clear guiding ideology become the most vicious partisans.

Why the Center-Left Became Immoderate

Democracy dies when one side loses respect for electoral outcomes and comes to consider the other illegitimate. Recent U.S. presidents, at least since Bill Clinton, have faced a degree of implacable opposition from the further reaches of the opposing party. But of late the problem seems to have intensified—and disrespect for democratic outcomes has become particularly acute on the center-left.

That may sound odd. We generally assume the political “middle” to be more reasonable and rational—and less partisan. Ideologues are the ones less amenable to compromise. But although centrists are by definition skeptical of ideology, that does not make them any less prone to partisanship.

In polarized times, political competition comes to resemble tribal warfare. Everyone is under pressure to close ranks and boost morale. Lacking an animating vision beyond expert-led incrementalism, center-left politicians and pundits have few options to rally the Democratic base other than by attacking adversaries and heightening partisan divides. The other option—laying out an alternative that differs from what Hillary Clinton or even President Obama offered—requires ideological conviction.

That would explain why Rep. Adam Schiff —previously “known as a milquetoast moderate,” according to the New Yorker—has emerged as one of the most outspoken figures in the Russian collusion investigation. Before being appointed to succeed Mrs. Clinton in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand was an upstate New York representative who belonged to the Blue Dog Coalition. Her 2013 New Yorker profile was titled “Strong Vanilla”—and she now boasts the upper chamber’s most anti- Trump voting record.

Many Democrats are unwilling to accept that Mrs. Clinton actually lost to Donald Trump. Those who find her standard center-left technocratic worldview congenial are disinclined to accept ideological explanations, so they look for scapegoats: Russia, James Comey, even the voters who supported Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton herself pre-emptively offered the last explanation in September 2016, when she consigned half of Trump supporters to “the basket of deplorables”—“they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” As 2020 approaches, Democrats run the risk of repeating that mistake, taking for granted, as Mrs. Clinton did, that Mr. Trump’s unique flaws will be sufficient to ensure his defeat.

Contrast the centrists with leftist standard-bearers like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They’re no fans of Mr. Trump, but they haven’t been at the forefront of calls for impeachment or intensifying the Russia investigation. Instead, they have focused their efforts on broadening the Democratic Party’s base with a more inclusive populism that takes seriously the systemic causes of inequality. Both have resisted the urge to write off Mr. Trump’s supporters, and Mr. Sanders in particular has made outreach to Republicans a major part of his postelection message. Mr. Sanders seems instinctively uncomfortable with identity politics, a Democratic preference that makes it harder to reach out to Trump voters since identities are more fixed than interests or ideas.

The mainstream media generally share a center-left worldview. Most reporters aren’t Marxists or even Sandernistas, and anti-Trump alarmism—what some scholars have called “tyrannophobia”—has become a consistent theme. The idea of a Trump dictatorship may be compelling, but that doesn’t make it right, particularly when it distorts how one perceives actual tyranny. Consider the weekend’s fawning Olympic coverage of Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. “Despite Mike Pence’s sabotage, North Korea’s ‘charm offensive’ appears to be working,” reads a Sunday tweet from ThinkProgress—an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, founded by Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager.

People want something to believe in, but in the absence of a strong ideological sensibility among Democrats, partisanship and alarmism offer ready recourse. Having an enemy is a powerful motivator, and hating Mr. Trump is entertaining to boot. Politics might otherwise return to boring discussions on how to improve health care or education, why we need more experts, or why facts are important.

The relationship between partisanship and ideology may be changing in unexpected ways. Yesterday’s centrists have become some of today’s most intense partisans. There’s nothing wrong with partisanship per se, but it’s a problem when the parties view each other as enemies and existential threats. Centrism may seem an obvious solution, but too little ideology can be as dangerous as too much.

Does this mean we need more ideologues? The word sounds like an insult, connoting inflexibility and narrow-mindedness. But politicians who are committed to a set of ideas also tend to have less to prove. They don’t need to play to the base; they can lead the base. Congress—and the country—could use more of them.

Mr. Hamid is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World.”

Appeared in the February 13, 2018, print edition.

Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea amid ‘intensified’ pressure

February 12, 2018


SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may be looking more favorably at diplomatic engagement with North Korea, possibly holding dialogue, as South Korea pushes forward with plans to establish grounds for a rare summit between the two Koreas.


U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea February 9, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS A

Vice President Mike Pence said in a newspaper interview the United States and South Korea had agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington without pre-conditions.

The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults and threats of destruction amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.

Trump has at times questioned the purpose of further talks with the North after years of negotiations by previous U.S. administrations failed to halt the North’s weapons programs.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.

Image result for Mike Pence, Moon, photos, olympics

United States’ Vice President Mike Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in laugh during the ladies’ 500 meters short-track speedskating in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Relations between the two Koreas have improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang agreeing to send its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

The visit included an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks. Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Pence said Washington would keep up its “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearisation,” Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

A South Korean government official said Seoul’s stance was that separate talks with North Korea by South Korea and the United States should both lead the denuclearisation of the North while sanctions and pressure continue to be applied.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, looks on after North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra’s performance in Seoul, South Korea, February 11, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

North Korea defends its weapons programs as essential to counter U.S. aggression, saying regular war drills between the United States and the South are preparations for invasion. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war.


South Korea said it will seek ways to continue engaging North Korea, including trying to arrange more reunions for families divided by the war and lowering military tensions.

The statement from the Ministry of Unification came after the North Korean delegation concluded its three-day visit.

The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict on the Korean peninsula ended in a ceasefire and not a truce.

“(The visit) shows that North Korea has a strong will to improve inter-Korean relations and that Pyongyang can make unprecedented and bold measures if deemed necessary,” the ministry said.

The visit of the delegation, which included North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, intrigued many in South Korea, but also met scepticism about the North’s willingness to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea has said it will never give up its nuclear deterrent and critics in the South see its participation in the Games as a reward for bad behavior.

The South’s Unification Ministry said steps to improve ties would be led by the two Koreas, but with the support of the international community.

“Under a strong position for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Korea will faithfully implement the international sanctions on North Korea, while also adhering to the principle of resolution through peaceful means,” the statement said.

Kim Yo Jong and her delegation spent three days dining with top government officials, watching the opening ceremony and cheering for the united women’s ice hockey team the two Koreas have fielded at this Olympics.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach will visit North Korea after the Games as part of an agreement between the IOC and North and South Korea, a source within the Olympic movement told Reuters on Monday.

Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie

Kim’s Smiling Sister Exploits Trump-Moon Divide — “Goal is to get the United States and North Korea to jaw-jaw”

February 11, 2018


By David Tweed, Kanga Kong, and Andy Sharp

  • Charm offensive aimed at undermining sanctions, war talk
  • Pence says there’s ‘no daylight’ between U.S. and South Korea
Kim Yo Jong on Feb. 9.Photographer: Patrick Semansky/Pool /Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un deployed a new weapon at the Olympics to fight back against the Trump administration’s sanctions and threats of a preemptive strike against his nuclear program: His sister.

Kim Yo Jong shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, cheered enthusiastically for a unified Korean team, and displayed a sense of humor in weekend meetings. She also delivered a letter inviting Moon to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang, and asked him to play a “leading role” in reuniting the two Koreas after nearly seven decades.

The gesture sought to further exploit divisions between the U.S. and South Korea, which differ on the best way to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons. It served as the focal point of a charm offensive designed to counter the U.S. narrative that Kim Jong Un is a madman who tortures his own people and would blow up Los Angeles or New York City if he didn’t get his way.

North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has already allowed Kim Jong Un to undermine President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign, with some sanctions suspended temporarily until the event ends. In pushing for a summit with Moon, Kim is seeking to consolidate those gains while maintaining his nuclear arsenal to deter a U.S. invasion.

‘Brilliant Maneuver’

The question now is whether the U.S. and South Korea can stay united in keeping up the pressure on North Korea just as sanctions limiting export revenue and curbing fuel imports start to bite. While Trump’s advisers have threatened military action to prevent Kim from gaining the ability to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon, Moon is seeking to prevent a war that could devastate South Korea and the region.

Kim’s proposal for a summit was “a brilliant diplomatic maneuver,” said Andrei Lankov, a historian at Kookmin University in Seoul who once studied in Pyongyang. Moon would irritate Trump if he accepts the invitation, while declining would make the U.S. and South Korea appear “unreasonably bellicose,” he said.

“The proposal, as well as North Korea’s presence at the Games, sends a signal that the North Koreans are ready to talk,” Lankov said. “And this signal helps the opponents of a military operation in Washington and elsewhere.”

How North Korea Managed to Crash the Olympics Party

Signs of discord in the U.S.-South Korea alliance were evident immediately after the announcement. Moon’s office initially provided conflicting accounts of whether he accepted the invitation, with a Blue House spokesperson later clarifying that pre-conditions first needed to be met.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence didn’t discuss the invitation with Moon Saturday while they watched a speed-skating event, a senior White House official said. Speaking to reporters later aboard Air Force One, Pence reiterated that there was “no daylight” between the U.S., South Korea and Japan in pushing to isolate North Korea until Kim abandons his nuclear program.

But North Korea watchers aren’t convinced that Moon will stay on script. He came to power promising a softer approach to Pyongyang and has repeatedly sought a summit with Kim Jong Un. Moon initially opposed U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in South Korea, and last year vowed to prevent war at all costs after Trump threatened “fire and fury” against North Korea.

Moon Worries

“I worry he won’t want to miss the opportunity to further a new ‘sunshine policy’ and peace engagement,” Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, said of the South Korean leader. “Going to Pyongyang unconditionally would be a really bad development, and I think would anger the U.S. Trump administration, and cause real concern with the U.S. that Moon may give too much away.”

Moon also faces the risk of a backlash at home. His approval ratings, while still high at 63 percent, fell after he pushed for a unified women’s ice hockey team for the two Koreas. Conservative groups have protested the appearance of North Korean athletes at the Games in Pyeongchang with vulgar signs.

Joseph DeTrani, who helped broker a 2005 agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program, said Moon should attend the summit if Kim Jong Un agrees to discuss nuclear and missile issues and return to the six-party talks on denuclearization. That mirrors previous statements from Trump administration officials when asked about the possibility of talks.

Still, North Korea has shown no signs it’s willing to discuss denuclearization. Its negotiators protested last month when South Koreans raised the issue during talks over the Olympics, a line North Korea’s state-run media has reiterated. Last week, a commentary published by the Korean Central News Agency called denuclearization “a wild dream that can never come true.”

Moon won’t have much space to negotiate with North Korea without backing from the U.S., said Christopher Green, senior adviser on the Korean peninsula at the International Crisis Group in Amsterdam.

“His goal is to do enough on the inter-Korean front to get the United States and North Korea to jaw-jaw,” Green said. “The real strategic games have only just begun.”

— With assistance by Sohee Kim, and Toluse Olorunnipa

North Korean Leader Invites South Korean President to Pyongyang

February 10, 2018

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang for a summit meeting, a dramatic gesture that came just hours after the two countries’ athletes marched into the Olympic opening ceremony together.

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un conveyed an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang for a summit meeting, a dramatic gesture that came just hours after the two countries’ athletes marched into the Olympic opening ceremony together.

Mr. Moon steered clear of any immediate commitments, telling Kim Yo Jong, who was acting as a special envoy for her brother, that he hoped the two sides would create the right preconditions for such a summit to take place, according to a spokesman for South Korea’s presidential Blue House.

PHOTO: Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrives at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, Feb. 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. Patrick Semansky/Getty Images

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrives at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, Feb. 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.


The invitation is the latest twist in a sudden reversal in North Korea’s approach to its southern rival that began six weeks ago when Mr. Kim said in his New Year’s address that he would be interested in sending athletes to the Winter Olympics, which opened Friday in the South Korean ski resort town of Pyeongchang.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, during their meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, February 10, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

The invitation came after a three-hour meeting between Ms. Kim and Mr. Moon at the Blue House on Saturday, where the two delegations shared lunch. During the meeting, Ms. Kim also conveyed a letter to Mr. Moon from the North Korean leader.

Ms. Kim, who is believed to be about 30 years old, is the first member of the North’s ruling Kim family to make an official visit to the South. She was accompanied by North Korea’s 90-year-old ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam, and other officials.

Security staff accompany Kim Yo-jong

Under watch: North Korean security staff and officials accompany Kim Yo-jong at Incheon airportCREDIT: YONHAP/AFP PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

The North Korean delegation arrived by a special charter plane on Friday afternoon and attended the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics with Mr. Moon and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. The U.S. and North Korean delegations didn’t interact, while Mr. Moon turned around to shake hands with Ms. Kim and Mr. Kim when the inter-Korean team walked into the stadium together.

There have been two previous inter-Korean summit meetings in Pyongyang, in 2000 and 2007. Both times, Mr. Kim’s father Kim Jong Il hosted the South Korean president. Mr. Moon was the presidential chief of staff for Roh Moo-hyun, the South Korean president who met with Kim Jong Il in 2007.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at and Andrew Jeong at

Let the Propaganda Games Begin: North Korea Scores First in Olympic Battle

February 7, 2018

Pyongyang looks to project unity on global stage while foes remind world of its evils

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SEOUL—Ninety-two countries will take part in the Winter Olympics that begin Friday in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang. Yet much attention will be fixed on one that failed to register any athletes and has only the faintest of medal hopes: North Korea.


After a year in which Pyongyang test-launched ballistic missiles and detonated a powerful nuclear weapon in violation of United Nations resolutions, the regime of leader Kim Jong Un is trying to present a friendlier face on a stage many view as a symbol of international peace and harmony.

North Korea’s success in getting into the Olympics represents a first-round win in a parallel competition: the propaganda games.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will be there for the opposing team, attending the opening ceremony with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died in June, days after he was returned to the U.S. in a coma after over a year in North Korean custody.

Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of North Korean performers in Donghae, South Korea on Tuesday.
Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of North Korean performers in Donghae, South Korea on Tuesday.PHOTO: CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES

“We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” Mr. Pence said Monday.

Mr. Pence hinted at a series of events highlighting North Korea’s human-rights abuses. “We’ll be telling the truth about North Korea at every stop,” he said.

But Mr. Kim will also have opportunities to score more image points in the days to come.

Hundreds of North Korean cheerleaders will descend on the Olympic venues. A 140-member North Korean musical ensemble will perform two shows to packed auditoriums in Seoul and at the Games.

North Korea’s 22 athletes, brought in with a last-minute assist from the International Olympic Committee, will march into Pyeongchang’s opening ceremony alongside the South’s larger delegation under a flag bearing a silhouette of an undivided Korean peninsula.

In the arena, even one victory for the inter-Korean women’s ice-hockey team would be a coup for Pyongyang—especially if it comes against rival Japan.

The Korean women’s hockey team lines up on Sunday ahead of a match with Sweden on Sunday in Incheon, South Korea.
The Korean women’s hockey team lines up on Sunday ahead of a match with Sweden on Sunday in Incheon, South Korea. PHOTO: JON OLAV NESVOLD/ZUMA PRESS

North Korea’s pivot to rapprochement, which began in a Jan. 1 speech by Mr. Kim that also included threats of nuclear destruction, has injected tensions into the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has promoted outreach to the North, while the Trump administration has led a global campaign of pressure and sanctions.

Mr. Kim raised the stakes on Wednesday by informing Seoul that he would send his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Games, in the first official visit to the South by a member of the North’s ruling family.

The opening ceremony alone will present plenty of potential for drama. Mr. Pence will be there, as will North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. The seating arrangement could allow for an encounter—planned or otherwise—between the two. It’s also possible that Ms. Kim could attend the opening ceremony.

The North’s involvement in the Games allows it to try to cast itself as something of a peacemaker, despite its continued pledges to bolster its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and South Korea recently agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after the Paralympics end in mid-March, citing the need to concentrate on security arrangements for the Games.

For skeptics of Mr. Kim’s intentions, this has turned the Pyeongchang Olympics into the “Pyongyang Olympics”—a phrase that South Korea’s main conservative opposition party has deployed in recent weeks.

“It’s amazing how completely Kim Jong Un is controlling the agenda,” said Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary senior research fellow and Korea expert at Leeds University in the U.K.

Pyeongchang, a tiny ski resort in a remote corner of South Korea, has transformed itself into the host of the largest-ever Winter Olympics. Here’s how the Games look from a drone’s perspective.

Defenders of South Korea’s president say that if allowing Mr. Kim to bask in a propaganda win is the price needed to ensure a peaceful Olympics free of North Korean military threats, it is a price worth paying.

“As recently as the end of last year, it was unimaginable that South and North Korea would enter the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics together,” read an editorial praising the rapprochement, in Hankyoreh, South Korea’s main left-leaning newspaper.

A hint of North Korea’s charm offensive came in the early rounds of inter-Korean dialogue last month, when Pyongyang sent its best-known pop singer to the talks.

The appearance of Hyon Song Wol at the negotiating table and then on an inspection of concert venues caused a flurry of excitement in South Korea, where her every move was broadcast on national TV.

The image could turn once the Games are under way, if there are defections from the North Korean delegation or protests against the regime by athletes or others.

South Korean conservatives have already met the North Koreans’ arrival with protests, burning the North’s flag and effigies of Mr. Kim.

The last time South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, Pyongyang made several efforts to co-host events but was rebuffed, and blew up a South Korean airliner in the lead-up to the Games. The 2018 Games could provide a display of the gap that has continued to widen between this thriving democracy and the impoverished dictatorship next door.

The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea was shut out and blew up a South Korean airliner, killing over 100 people. Here a South Korean government employee carries the Olympic flame Seoul on Sept. 16, 1988, ahead of the opening ceremony.
The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea was shut out and blew up a South Korean airliner, killing over 100 people. Here a South Korean government employee carries the Olympic flame Seoul on Sept. 16, 1988, ahead of the opening ceremony. PHOTO: HYUNGWONG KANG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Even as the North has turned on the charm, there is plenty of evidence that it hasn’t backed away from its goal of being able to threaten the U.S. with nuclear-tipped missiles. On Thursday, a day before the Olympic opening ceremony, North Korea is expected to hold a large military parade in Pyongyang where it could show off new hardware.

It has also continued to lash out at its three nemeses: South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. In articles published through its state mouthpiece on Tuesday, the North called South Korea’s defense minister “an imbecile” and “a colonial stooge,” while denouncing President Donald Trump as a “dolt-like” lunatic whose “backbone would be broken” if the U.S. conducted even a limited, so-called bloody-nose military strike on North Korea.

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